Bharahat - Encyclopedia

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BHARAHAT, or Barhut, a village in the small state of Nagod in India, lying about 24° 15' N. by 80° 45' E., about 120 m. S.W. of Allahabad. General A. Cunningham discovered there in 1873 the remains of a stupa (i.e. a burial mound over the ashes of some distinguished person) which were excavated, in 1874, by his assistant, J. D. Beglar. The results showed that it must have been one of the most imposing and handsome in India; and it is especially important now from the large number of inscriptions found upon it. The ancient name of the place has not been yet traced, but it must have been a considerable city and its site lay on the high road between the ancient capitals of Ujjeni and Kosambi. The stupa was circular, 70 ft. in diameter and 42 ft. high. It was surrounded by a stone railing loo ft. in diameter, so that between railing and stupa there was an open circle round which visitors could walk; and the whole stood towards the east side of a paved quadrangle about 300 ft. by 320 ft., surrounded by a stone wall. On the top of the stupa was an ornament shaped like the letter T, and as the base of the stupa was above the quadrangle, the total height of the monument was between 50 and 60 ft. But its main interest, to us, lies in the railing. This consisted of eighty square pillars, 7 ft. 1 in. in height, connected by cross-bars about 1 ft. broad. Both pillars and cross-bars were elaborately carved in bas-relief, and most of them bore inscriptions giving either the name of the donor, or the subject of the bas-relief, or both. There were four entrances through the railing, facing the cardinal points, and each one protected by the railing coming out at right angles, and then turning back across it in the shape of the letter L. This gave the whole ground plan of the monument, and no doubt designedly so, the shape of a gigantic swastika a symbol of good fortune). By the forms of the letters of the inscriptions, and by the architectural details, the age of the monument has been approximately fixed in the 3rd century B.C. The bas-reliefs give us invaluable evidence of the literature, and also of the clothing, buildings and other details of the social conditions of the peoples of Buddhist India at that period. The subjects are taken from the Buddhist sacred books, more especially from the accounts given in them of the life of the Buddha in his last or in his previous births. Unfortunately, only about half the pillars, and about one-third of the crossbars have been recovered. When the stupa was discovered the villagers had already carried off the greater part of the monument to build their cottages with the stones and bricks of it. The process has gone on till now nothing is left except what General Cunningham found and rescued and carried off to Calcutta. Even the mere money value of the lost pieces must be immense, and among them is the central relic box, which would have told us in whose honour the monument was put up.

See A. Cunningham, The Stupa of Bharhut (London, 1879); T. W. Rhys Davids, Buddhist India (London, 1903). (T. W. R. D.)

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